y painted box tied with a silver cord. “A collection of ribbons. Silk and satin and even velvet. Do you want to see?”
“Oh, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the wrapping.”
Fiona shrugged. “All you need to do is untie the cord carefully. I do it every Christmas.” She slipped off the cord and lifted the lid.
Miranda caught her breath. At least two dozen ribbons lay on the black velvet of the box, each exquisitely tied into a bow. “They’re beautiful, Fiona. May I see one?”
Fiona narrowed her eyes.
“I haven’t any mud on my hands. See?” Miranda held her hands up for inspection.
“Oh, very well.”
Miranda reached down and picked up a violet ribbon. The satin felt sinfully sleek and soft in her hands. She placed the bow coquettishly against her hair. “What do you think?”
Fiona rolled her eyes. “Not violet, Miranda. Everyone knows they are for blond hair. The color practically disappears against brown. You certainly can’t wear one.”
Miranda handed the ribbon back to her. “What color suits brown hair? Green? My mama has brown hair, and I’ve seen her wear green ribbons.”
“Green would be acceptable, I suppose. But it’s better in blond hair. Everything’s better in blond hair.”
Miranda felt a spark of indignation rising within her. “Well, I don’t know what you’re going to do then, Fiona, because your hair is as brown as mine.”
Fiona drew back in a huff. “It is not!”
Miranda leaned forward, her eyes narrowing menacingly. “You had better take a look in the mirror when you go home, Fiona, because your hair is not blond.”
Fiona put the violet ribbon back in its case and snapped the lid shut. “Well, it used to be blond, whereas yours never was. And besides that, my hair is light brown, which everyone knows is better than dark brown. Like yours.”
“There’s nothing wrong with dark brown hair!” Miranda protested. But she already knew that most of England didn’t agree with her.
“And,” Fiona added viciously, “you’ve got big lips!”
Miranda’s hand flew to her mouth. She knew that she was not beautiful; she knew she wasn’t even considered pretty. But she’d never noticed anything wrong with her lips before. She looked up at the smirking girl. “You have freckles!” she burst out.
Fiona drew back as if slapped. “Freckles fade. Mine shall be gone before I turn eighteen. My mother puts lemon juice on them every night.” She sniffed disdainfully. “But there’s no remedy for you, Miranda. You’re ugly.”
“She is not!”
Both girls turned to see Olivia, who had returned from the washroom.
“Oh, Olivia,” Fiona said. “I know you are friends with Miranda because she lives so close by and shares your lessons, but you must admit she isn’t very pretty. My mama says she’ll never get a husband.”
Olivia’s blue eyes sparkled dangerously. The Earl of Rudland’s only daughter had always been loyal to a fault, and Miranda was her best friend. “Miranda will get a better husband than you, Fiona Bennet! Her father’s a baronet whereas yours is a mere mister.”
“Being a baronet’s daughter makes little difference unless one has looks or money,” Fiona recited, repeating words she had obviously heard at home. “And Miranda has neither.”
“Be quiet, you silly old cow!” Olivia exclaimed, stomping her foot on the ground. “This is my birthday party, and if you can’t be nice, you may leave!”
Fiona gulped. She knew better than to alienate Olivia, whose parents held the highest rank in the area. “I’m sorry, Olivia,” she mumbled.
“Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to Miranda.”
“I’m sorry, Miranda.”